February 5, 2019

For most businesses, it’s time-consuming and expensive to bring new employees up to speed and train existing employees to perform new duties.

The costs involved in training don’t show up as a line item on any ledger, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

So what can you do? Create how-to manuals that clearly spell out the day-to-day duties employees are expected to perform.

A detailed job procedures manual (also called an occupational manual) is one of the fastest ways to lower employee-training costs. Don’t confuse these manuals with written job descriptions — another valuable tool for any organization. A job description outlines the duties to be performed by employees. A procedures manual explains exactly how to perform those jobs.

Here’s a two-step plan to get started:

  1. The best way to get these manuals written is to have your staff prepare their own. Require each employee to describe in detail what he or she does. Tasks that may seem too minor to mention should at least be noted. For example, the office receptionist may have formed a habit of carrying the outgoing mail with her to drop off in the mailbox as she leaves for lunch. But there’s a chance that nobody else knows she does that. If she quit tomorrow, important mail could pile up for a few days before anyone notices that it isn’t going out. Another advantage of this exercise is that new employees learn their predecessors’ duties.
  2. After staff members finish writing their descriptions, give the write-ups to supervisors to edit. The supervisors can then follow the steps in the write-up to see if the instructions work. Not only can supervisors add any missing material, they also gain valuable insight into whether employees are doing work that is unnecessary.
    In many cases, if you ask employees why they perform unproductive tasks, they respond: “That’s the way the person who had the job before me did it.”

By using the employee-written manuals as a base, supervisors can streamline procedures and describe them in the finished manuals.

The bottom line: The effort involved in developing manuals will pay off handsomely by reducing the time and money spent on employee training and wasted efforts. But more than that, it will protect your business from disruption in the event that an employee leaves unexpectedly or becomes seriously ill. Many jobs, over time, grow more complex than the bosses realize. An employee may handle dozens of small tasks that could fall through the cracks if that person were suddenly gone.

© 2019